May 22, 2024

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Sushi, Sake, Sakura: The Growth of Culinary Tourism in Japan |

4 min read

Throughout March, the Japanese Embassy in India hosted gastronomic fests that offered a glimpse into the intricacies of Japanese cuisine and dining etiquette. Master Chef Hal Yamashita — the only Master Chef of Japanese cuisine globally — introduced students to the nuances of cooking Japanese food. What followed was an exclusive Japanese seafood soiree that featured and introduced many brands from the land of sake and sakura to India.

Japan has taken several steps to promote its culinary delights worldwide in the past few years. As Japan’s food culture gains popularity with people across the world, gastronomy tourism to the land continues to boom.

Trails and Trends in Food Tourism Across Japan

The culinary travel industry has been booming in the past few years, and social media played a big part in this. Influencers and regular travelers have taken it upon themselves to find, record, and review the best local gastronomic offerings worldwide, but especially in Japan.

Japan Eat, for example, is a YouTube channel dedicated to exploring tasty Japanese treats, with some nonsensical commentary in the background. The channel has 1.33 million subscribers. From former Geisha Kimono Mom to Fumino Kimura, food influencers have played a big role in introducing Japanese cuisine to the world and have influenced the growth of culinary tourism in Japan. 

Today, many destinations have started recognizing culinary travel’s huge potential and building the infrastructure needed to support it. As a result of this trend, the number of culinary tours, food-centric travel firms, workshops, and even food festivals continues to grow.

This has also brought some well-deserved recognition to previously less-known cuisines. Thai, Indonesian, Korean, and Japanese cuisines have all risen in popularity worldwide. Previously, Chinese culinary delights were the face of Asian cuisine. With the ever-rising popularity of Korean and Japanese media, foodies worldwide crave steaming bowls of Naruto ramen enough to travel to Japan to find it. Once one has begun exploring the world of Japanese food, they say, there really is no going back.

The Driving Forces Behind Japan’s Food Tourism 

The cuisine is rich not just in flavors but also in history. Eating in Japan is an experience in itself. It goes beyond consuming copious amounts of ramen, sushi, and wagyu beef. Traditional ramen joints offer a peek into local culture and regional history. 

The land also has a thriving street food culture. Dishes like dango, takoyaki, and okonomiyaki are favorites among locals and international travelers. But the epitome of it all is the kaiseki food available at traditional Japanese restaurants.

Kaiseki dining balances flavors with artistry. It features multiple courses where each ingredient is picked for its freshness and presented in a way that enhances its natural beauty. The entire process — from preparation to consumption — is, thus, nothing less than a sensory experience.

The popularity of traditional Japanese cuisine and the growing number of high-quality restaurants have driven culinary delight seekers to the country. In fact, Tokyo has the highest number of Michelin-starred eateries of any other city in the world. 

Washoku, or Japanese cuisine, is also famous for the sheer variety of its offerings. The dishes play with texture, flavor, and the freshest ingredients to create something that is often as healthy as it is delicious. Aside from the taste of their food, the hospitality of the Japanese also attracts food tourists to the land. 

From tonkatsu and donburi, Japan also focuses a lot on meat-based dishes. According to a recent survey by Statista, meat was the favorite food of international travelers in Japan.

How Japan Tourism Agency Plans To Spur Culinary Tourism

Statista reports food and drink are the third largest expenses for foreign tourists in Japan. Visitors from South Korea, China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan spent the most on consumables in the country. Individual Australian tourists spend the most money on food on average.

The sector is booming, and its economic potential has drawn the attention of the Japan Tourism Agency (JTA). So, for the financial year 2024, the agency aims to focus its efforts and resources on promoting food tourism.

According to The Japan Times, the JTA will pay subsidies to different travel agencies so they have the resources to focus on gastronomy tourism. The aim is to combine the traditional cultural experience with the culinary one to create travel products on which tourists will readily spend over a million yen, or roughly $6,700 USD.

To support the creation of these products, the JTA offers up to 50 million yen per applicant. This will help travel agencies spend money on wild, fresh, and regional ingredients and menus and organize tours that allow travelers to experience the local culinary culture. The recipients can also use the funds to promote these tours and culinary products on international travel sites. 


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